After 18 months: Welcome back, Canada, if you’re vaccinated
After more than 18 months in which the U.S. border was closed to most Canadians, Michigan business leaders hailed Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. border would reopen to vaccinated travelers from Canada next month.
Claude Molinari, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted that 1.3 million Canadians visit southeast Michigan annually, with an economic impact of $411 million.
“That’s a big dollar amount for the economy of southeast Michigan,” Molinari told Bridge Michigan. “Having the border opened prior to the holiday shopping season is going to be a big benefit. We miss our Canadian friends.”
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also praised the news.
"The relationship between Michigan and Canada is one built on trade, travel, and friendship. I look forward to welcoming our neighbors as they cross the Ambassador Bridge or Detroit-Windsor Tunnel into Detroit, the Blue Water Bridge into Port Huron, or the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge into Sault Ste. Marie. “
The policy change announced by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will open Michigan’s border with Canada, as well as Mexico, for the first time since March 2020 to visitors arriving for non-essential reasons, including tourists and people visiting friends. The border was sealed to all but essential workers when the pandemic hit as the nations sought to curb spread of COVID-19.
The revised policy comes after months of pressure from lawmakers, business groups, local officials and separated families on both sides of the border. Canada reopened its border to vaccinated U.S. travelers two months ago.
“At long last, there is action by the United States to open the doors and welcome back our Canadian neighbors,” U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat from upstate New York and co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, said in a statement welcoming the news.
“Strong vaccination rates in Canada made the continued border shutdown absurd and unjustifiable.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Holland Republican who co-chairs the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group, termed the announcement a step in the right direction but argued "it is not enough, and more needs to be done to ease travel."
Huizenga tried to link the U.S delay in broadly reopening the border with Canada to immigration headaches on the southern border with Mexico. .
“For over a year and a half, northern border communities and Canadian-American families have had to live with overly burdensome restrictions that divided them because of the Biden administration’s inability to stem the tide of people illegally entering the United States along our Southern border," Huizenga said in a statement.
Bridge reached out to a Huizenga spokesperson for further explanation of his argument, but did not immediately hear back.
Huizenga also took issue with the Biden administration limiting the reopening to vaccinated visitors. He wants the administration also to allow visitors who can produce a negative PCR test or who have natural immunity from a previous infection.
"Both of these common sense measures would be an improvement over the free-for-all currently happening along our southern border on Joe Biden’s watch," Huizenga said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan said the border reopening will help clear obstacles between two neighbors.
“There is no question travel restrictions at our Northern Border have caused significant disruptions and challenges for Michigan’s cross-border communities and binational families,” he said in a statement.
Peters last month joined a group of senators from states bordering Canada in a letter to Biden, urging his administration to open the U.S.-Canada border to vaccinated travelers by October.
Molinari of the Detroit convention bureau said the border opening will be a boost for businesses large and small, from mom and pop shops and restaurants to sprawling shopping malls.
In Auburn Hills, officials at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets, the state’s largest indoor mall, estimate that a fifth of its customers crossed the border from Canada to shop there before the border limits were put in place.
“This affects retail stores, hotels, restaurants. It’s sporting good stores, our sporting teams,” Molinari said of Canadian residents who traditionally cross the border for Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings games.
“The Detroit Red Wings have a lot of Canadian following. When Canadian teams visit the Red Wings, they bring a large contingent of fans over with them. And they stay in hotels and visit our restaurants and nightclubs. It’s really important for us.”
In the Upper Peninsula, business owner Ken Hopper typically depends on a significant contingent of Canadians to cross the border at Sault Ste. Marie to patronize Bird’s Eye Outfitters, a kayaking tour operation that also serves up specialty coffees, beer and food to visitors.
Hopper called Wednesday’s announcement of an open border with Canada “good timing. It will definitely be a shot in the arm at a time when we need it.”
He’s optimistic that many of his Canadian customers will return this year and next, when he plans to expand outdoor offerings.
“We haven’t lost touch,” he told Bridge.
“We are still getting emails and texts from folks from Canada we saw before the pandemic, saying as soon as the border is open we will be back, chin up. It’s been encouraging.”
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